History of the House of Representatives

By George B. Galloway | Go to book overview

Chapter Seven
LEADERSHIP IN THE HOUSE

POLITICAL LEADERSHIP is a fascinating subject for study, and nowhere more so than in nations with democratic forms of government. Such countries are governed in large part by their national legislatures, the role of whose leaders excites perennial interest. Writing in 1885, Woodrow Wilson remarked that "in a country which governs itself by means of a public meeting, a Congress or a Parliament, a country whose political life is representative, the only real leadership in governmental affairs must be legislative leadership -- ascendancy in the public meeting which decides everything. The leaders, if there be any, must be those who suggest the opinions and rule the actions of the representative body."

The position of Congress in the American system of government may not be so supreme today as it was when Wilson wrote his little classic on Congressional Government. But the leadership of Congress continues to intrigue the interest of scholars and laymen alike. Especially is this true in the case of the House of Representatives, where the character and conditions of leadership have had a most interesting history.

In any large assembly leaders must arise or be chosen to manage its business, and the American House of Representatives has long had its posts of leadership. Outstanding among them have been the Speaker, the Floor Leader, Majority Whip, and the chairman of the Committee on Rules. The Chairmen of Ways and Means and of Appropriations have also long been top leadership positions in the hierarchy of the House, followed by the chairmen of the other great standing committees of that body.

During the first twenty years of congressional history, the Speakers were mere figureheads. They presided over the House, to be sure, but

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